Erik Spoelstra bids emotional farewell to Heat season: 'It just doesn't feel right'

Erik Spoelstra is sad to see this season end. (AP)

The Miami Heat defeated the Washington Wizards 110-102 on Wednesday night to complete a stunning second-half turnaround, finishing the season 41-41 following a 11-30 start. After beginning the season so poorly, contending for a playoff spot on the season’s final day represents a meaningful accomplishment for Miami. When second-year forward Justise Winslow went down for the year in early January, it didn’t feel like too much to say the season was already lost. Now they’re set to enter the offseason with optimism and meaningful progress to show free agents.

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Unfortunately, that feel-good story was not enough to bring the Heat a playoff berth. The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls also won on Wednesday night, which forced the Heat into a tiebreaker with the latter for eighth place in the East. Miami lost the first two meetings in their three-game season series before the end of December, so a team everyone greatly enjoyed watching is now out of the playoffs for one that seemed to suffer from infighting every five days. The rules are the rules and the Heat didn’t exactly dominate in April, but it’s still a bummer to see them go fishin’.

No one appears to have felt that pain more than head coach Erik Spoelstra. The Coach of the Year candidate spoke to the media following Wednesday’s game and elimination, and he did not hold back the emotion. He’s going to miss this team a lot.

And here’s that post-silence statement as a few blocks of text:

I don’t if I’ve ever felt this way about a team before. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something more for a team. Any one of us wanted to get into team sports, it was to be around a team like this. We went through so much together in just a few months and really got to know each other. And through everything we’ve made it each other better. It was such an honor to be around a group like this, you know, it really was.

I wish I had something for this team to keep this thing going. I think the hardest thing for any of us to wrap our minds around is that we don’t have practice tomorrow at 12. It just doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t feel like the basketball gods shined down on us. I think probably our group wants to be in there as much as any team in the playoffs.

It’s just an extremely tough thing to wrap our minds around right now. This was a great group. Everything that we went through together brought it out. It was the most vulnerable group I’ve been around. It’s basketball but it really became a family. It became a group that really cared and loved each other, and we weren’t afraid to tell each other that.

It’s an affecting statement made all the more remarkable for the fact that Spoelstra went to four NBA Finals and won two championships with a group that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. For him to talk in such warm tones about a team that finished ninth in a conference full of disappointments speaks volumes about what this group must have gone through and meant to him.

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An outsider is never going to understand everything about an NBA locker room, but the way the Heat banded together after a rough start and turned things around (complete with a record winning streak) was impossible not to notice given how most teams that start a season so poorly finish out the campaign. It’s all too rare to see a team with a winning percentage around .250 pack it in, rest its best players, and angle for the best draft pick possible. Most players begin to look out for themselves — not out of malice, but because it takes a lot to establish a career in a league with so much turnover.

The Heat were obviously different. They only grew stronger when things were going poorly, and they deserve lots of credit for accomplishing what they did. Even on playoff win would have been a well-earned prize for this group, but it’s safe to say that the lack of a postseason appearance won’t change the value of this season. It certainly won’t for Spoelstra.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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NHL Three Stars: All hail Jake Allen in Blues’ win

 

No. 1 Star: Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues 

With due respect to overtime game-winner Joel Edmundson, it was all Jake Allen in the Blues’ 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild in Game 1. He made 51 saves (and admittedly had some luck) in carrying St. Louis to victory. For those worried about his playoff mettle (raises hand), this was impressive.

No. 2 Star: Melker Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

The Sharks forward completed their rally against the Edmonton Oilers, sniping a goal at 3:22 of overtime for the 3-2 Game 1 win.

No. 3 Star: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

The King made goals by Tanner Glass and Michael Grabner stand up with a 31-save shutout, out-dueling Carey Price in the Rangers’ 2-0 Game 1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Honorable Mention: Brad Marchand scored at 17:27 of the third period to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators in Game 1. … Bobby Ryan had the Ottawa goal. … Rookie Charlie McAvoy was solid in skating 24:11 for Boston. … Vladimir Sobotka scored his second goal in two games for the Blues. … Cam Talbot made 41 saves. … Marc-Edouard Vlasic had two assists and helped limit Connor McDavid to one. … Marc-Andre Fleury made a surprise start for the Pittsburgh Penguins in place of the injured Matt Murray, making 31 saves in their 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1. … Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist, the latter coming on a nifty kick-pass:

Did You Know? It was Lundqvist’s 10th career playoff shutout in his 116th consecutive postseason start for the Rangers. (NHL)

Dishonorable Mention: Zach Parise evened things out, scoring a goal after preventing one for his team. … Andrei Markov was given a misconduct for this spear on Rick Nash at the end of the game.

NBA Playoff Picture: Everything at stake on the season's final day

Either the Celtics or Cavs will end Wednesday with the East’s top seed. (AP)

The NBA’s regular season ends on Wednesday, which means that there’s only one day left to set the final standings and determine the shape of the playoff bracket. Fourteen of 16 playoff berths and six of eight first-round series have already been determined, but there are still plenty of seeds left to sort out.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

The following seeds have already been set:

3. Toronto Raptors
4. Washington Wizards
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. Milwaukee Bucks

That leaves four spots to be decided, including the final two playoff berths in the conference. But we’ll start at the top, where the Celtics and Cavaliers must sort out which team gets homecourt advantage through the conference finals.

Boston Celtics

No. 1 if they beat the Bucks OR the Cavaliers lose to the Raptors
No. 2 if they lose to the Bucks and the Cavaliers beat the Raptors

Cleveland Cavalies

No. 1 if they beat the Raptors and the Celtics lose to the Bucks
No. 2 if they lose to the Raptors OR the Celtics beat the Bucks

Useful notes: It is probably in the Raptors’ best interest to rest players to better the Cavs’ chances of nabbing the No. 1 seed. Toronto can avoid playing the defending champions until the conference finals if they finish first. Or maybe it won’t matter — the Bucks will not play several rotation players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, in Boston:

Three teams are vying for two spots for the most complicated scenarios of the season’s final day. If the Heat nab one of these berths, they’ll have completed a stunning turnaround following an 11-30 start.

Indiana Pacers

No. 7 if they beat the Hawks OR the Bulls lose to the Nets and the Heat lose to the Wizards
No. 8 if they lose to the Hawks, the Bulls lose to the Nets, and the Heat beat the Wizards OR they lose to the Hawks, the Bulls beat the Nets, and the Heat lose to the Wizards
Eliminated if they lose to the Hawks, the Bulls beat the Nets, and the Heat beat the Wizards

Chicago Bulls

No. 7 if they beat the Nets and the Pacers lose to the Hawks
No. 8 if they beat the Nets and the Pacers beat the Hawks OR they lose to the Nets and the Heat lose to the Wizards
Eliminated if they lose to the Nets, the Pacers beat the Hawks, and the Heat beat the Wizards

Erik Spoelstra figures to get Coach of the Year consideration. (AP)

Miami Heat

No. 7 if they beat the Wizards, the Pacers lose to the Hawks, and the Bulls lose to the Nets
No. 8 if they beat the Wizards, the Pacers lose to the Hawks, and the Bulls beat the Nets OR they beat the Wizards, the Pacers beat the Hawks, and the Bulls lose to the Nets
Eliminated if they lose to the Wizards OR the Pacers beat the Hawks and the Bulls beat the Nets

Useful notes: The Nets have the NBA’s worst record but already played spoiler to the Bulls in a surprising win on Friday. However, Brooklyn will sit six rotation players on Wednesday — Brook Lopez, Trevor Booker, and Jeremy Lin will rest, and Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, and Sean Kilpatrick will all miss out on the game due to injury. Those absences should clear the way for the Bulls to clinch a playoff berth.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

All four first-round matchups have already been determined in the West. The only matter still to be resolved is which team gets homecourt advantage in the series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds.

The following seeds have already been set:

1. Golden State Warriors
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Houston Rockets
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Portland Trail Blazers

Will Blake Griffin and the Clippers have homecourt advantage? (AP)

And the Clippers and Jazz still need to figure out where they’ll play four of their seven games.

Los Angeles Clippers

No. 4 if they beat the Kings OR the Jazz lose to the Spurs
No. 5 if they lose to the Kings and the Jazz beat the Spurs

Utah Jazz

No. 4 if they beat the Spurs and the Clippers lose to the Kings
No. 5 if they lose to the Spurs OR the Clippers beat the Kings

Useful notes: The Clippers obviously have the more favorable matchup, but Gregg Popovich played his key players for roughly 20 minutes apiece on Monday against the Blazers and probably won’t push anyone too hard. There’s an argument to be made that the Kings are a more difficult opponent given that they have nothing to play for and could relish the role of spoiler.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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George Springer can't stop hitting leadoff homers

It’s only nine games into the regular season for the Houston Astros and already teams are learning how dangerous their hitters are.

Well, ok, one particular hitter. In one particular spot.

George Springer has continued hitting leadoff this year and it seems to be working out quite well. Four times this season he’s gone up to the plate for his team’s first at-bat and smashed the ball out of the stadium.

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His latest work occurred Tuesday night in Seattle on the first pitch he saw from Ariel Miranda. And that’s already the second time Springer hit a leadoff shot off Miranda this season.

It’s not just that Springer is getting the ball over the fence — he’s absolutely crushing them. The 27-year-old currently owns the second-longest home run this season (454 ft.), and he has two of the hardest hit balls this year at 114.2 mph and 114.6 mph, respectively, according to Statcast.

With his first inning shot Tuesday night, George Springer now has four leadoff home runs on the season. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
With his first inning shot Tuesday night, George Springer now has four leadoff home runs on the season. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

And if seems like he’s either starting games with a bang or ending them that way, that’s cause he is. Springer’s only other home run this season was a walk-off shot in extra innings. He followed that up the next day by becoming the first player in 27 years to hit a walk-off and leadoff homer back-to-back.

If “leadoff batters going deep” is the “new pitchers going deep,” fans will need to take extra measures to make sure they don’t miss the first pitch. Until then, practice with Astros games. George Springer is more than enough reason to tune in, anyways.

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Blake Schuster is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at blakeschuster@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

 

Giants hilariously score three runs on ball that barely leaves batter's box

In the box score, San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Moore had a pretty average day at the plate. He finished the game 0-for-2, with a strikeout and one RBI.

That’s pretty common for a pitcher. A person looking at that line might assume Moore came up to the plate with a man on third and managed to bring him home on a fielder’s choice.

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While that would technically be correct, it doesn’t come close to describing the absurdity of what actually happened during the team’s 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.

You see, the box score can sometimes be deceiving. Moore’s fielder’s choice actually resulted in three runs crossing the plate. And the best part: The ball traveled just 25 feet.

How exactly does that happen? With some awful defense.

Some bad defense led to the Giants scoring three runs on a weak hit Monday. (AP Photo)

With the Giants already leading 1-0, Moore came up to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fourth inning. On the second pitch of the at-bat, he hit what many would describe as a swinging bunt.

Moore chopped the ball straight into the ground in front of home plate. It bounced on the dirt and began rolling up the first base line on the infield grass.

With all the runners in motion, D-Backs pitcher Taijuan Walker had to act quickly. He ran over to the ball, slid to the ground while bare-handing it and fired it home to pick up the force out.

Only, Walker acted way too fast, and his throw sailed away from catcher Jeff Mathis. By that time, one run had already scored and the second was on its way home.

Mathis sprinted to the backstop to retrieve Walker’s errant throw, slid to the ground while bare-handing the ball and fired it back to the plate. It was a mirror image of Walker’s throw.

Taijuan Walker’s throw was the start of some awful defense by Arizona. (AP Photo)

And it had the same result. Mathis’ toss was off target. Walker, who was covered home to prevent more runs from scoring, couldn’t adjust his glove in time to make the catch. The ball skipped up the first base line toward Paul Goldschmidt.

With two runs already in, Goldschmidt fielded the ball a little more than halfway up the first base line. Though his throw was actually accurate, Jarrett Parker just managed to beat it out with his slide. Oh, and Moore, the guy who started the whole thing, wound up on second base.

And that’s the story of how the Giants scored three runs on a ball that barely left the batter’s box. It might look like a normal line in the box score, but in reality it was so much more than that.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!